Number one

Outstanding Achievement in the Field of ExcellenceA few months ago I mentioned that my site was the #2 result on Google when you search for Danny. Well, now I've moved up to the first result. Take that, other people named Danny! Seriously, this seems like a big mistake. Yahoo at least puts Danny Elfman ahead of me.

Paying more and dying sooner

Paying more and dying sooner - This brief article shows how little Giuliani knows about health care and then goes on to summarize a recent study comparing the health care of America and several countries with single-payer systems. I recommend reading this quick article and even looking at the study itself if you have time. Here are a few facts:

  1. The United States spends $6,697 per capita annually on health care, according to the survey—more than twice as much as any of the other countries surveyed.
  2. The United States ranks dead last in life expectancy, at 77.9 years, among the countries surveyed.
  3. Respondents in the United States were less likely than those in any of the other countries to say their health care system “works well”—and much more likely to see a need for “fundamental” change or a total overhaul.
  4. According to the survey, 80 percent of Americans have a regular doctor whom they usually see. That sounds pretty good, until you learn that 84 percent of Canadians, 88 percent of Australians, 89 percent of New Zealanders and Britons, 92 percent of Germans and 100 percent of Dutch respondents surveyed said they had regular doctors.

Why are we so afraid of "socialized medicine" when it's working for every other industrialized country in the world? And where do you think the extra $3000 per year per person that we spend ends up? At least some of that goes to insurance companies, which are required by law to maximize shareholder value. They're in business to make money, which mean paying for as little health care as possible. So, if you're afraid of public health care, then stop for a second and think about who is profiting from that fear. Apparently it's not us.

Barack Obama

The Presidential primaries are less than two months away and I am supporting Barack Obama. After nearly seven years of the George Bush administration and over four years of the war in Iraq, the country needs to see some serious change in our capital city. The Republican candidates are promising more of the same. There are several good candidates in the Democratic field, but Obama stands out on several issues. Here are a few of the reasons why I've decided to vote for him.

Iraq

Obama wasn't in the US Senate when they voted to allow Bush to invade Iraq, but he did go on record at that time opposing the war. He's the only leading candidate from either party with the judgement and foresight to have spoken out about the problems of invading Iraq from the beginning. He also has a clear and sensible plan for getting our combat troops out of Iraq and ending the war. He would leave troops to protect our embassy (relieving private contractors of the task) and fight terrorism, but we would no longer be the occupying power. This is not a fast or irresponsible withdrawal, but it would bring the war to a close by the end of next year.

Diplomacy

An Obama presidency would work together with our allies and use diplomacy with our enemies. He isn't promising to not use the military against Iran, but he is promising to talk to them.

Health

As much as I would like to see insurance companies removed from the picture and free health care for every American (like Canada and the UK have), I understand that a lot of people are afraid of that. Obama's plan isn't as bold as I would like, but he does promise to take on the insurance industry and make affordable health care available to more people. He says, "It's time to let the drug and insurance industries know that while they'll get a seat at the table, they don't get to buy every chair."

Energy

Obama is pledging to use both regulation and funding to move us toward energy independence. In the Senate he's been an outspoken proponent of increasing CAFE standards, which would require new cars to be more fuel efficient. While we're working toward breakthroughs in renewable energy, we need to be using less gasoline.

Lobbyists, corruption and open government

Too often, people in government are making decisions based on the interests of their financial supporters. We'll never have a just government when favors go to the highest bidder. Everyone talks about this problem, but I believe Obama has the best chance to actually change the culture of Washington. He may not be perfect in this area, but here's what I like:

  1. He was a leader in drafting reform legislation in the wake of the Abramoff scandal.
  2. He introduced legislation to open up the earmarking process, which would at least keep deals from being made in secret and slipped into a bill at the last minute.
  3. Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006
  4. He's new enough to Washington that maybe, just maybe, the lobbyists haven't systematically rotted his soul out.

Experience

Obama has held elected office for 10 years. That's longer than Hillary Clinton (6 years), John Edwards (6 years), Rudy Giuliani (8 years), Fred Thompson (9 years) or Mitt Romney (4 years). Prior to entering politics, he was a civil rights lawyer and a constitutional law professor.

You can learn more about Obama's views and plans on his campaign issues page. And you can watch his appearance on Meet the Press for free online.

Colbert on Atheists

Card-carrying members of BS [Big Secularism] have snaked their way into every branch of the federal government, except for the judicial and executive. Did you know that in the House of Representatives and the Senate, there are as many as one self-described atheist currently serving? Democratic Representative Pete Stark of California’s 13th district, to name just one. Just think of it — how are any pro-faith initiatives going to make it into law when Congress is held hostage by the anti-God caucus of Stark, his self and him?
-- Stephen Colbert, I Am America (And So Can You)

Invisible

"The invisible and the non-existent look very much alike."
-- Delos McKown

Gmail improvements

If you use Gmail, be sure to click on the 'Newer version' link in the upper right corner. They've added message prefetching and it's now amazingly fast.

(via Digg)

Good introduction to evolution

Richard Dawkins - Designed and Designoid Objects

This six-part YouTube video shows a youthful Richard Dawkins explaining evolution to an audience of middle schoolers. If you think evolution sounds far fetched, then take a look at the video. I think he does a brilliant job of explaining the basics of natural selection.

Trilemma

Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis one of the most influential works of popular Christian apologetics in the English language. It was a very important book to me when I was a believer, but now many of his arguments seem weak. The Moral Argument is central to Lewis's defense of Christian faith and I've dealt with that in previous posts. One of the most famous passages from the book presents a supposed trilemma: Jesus must be a Lord, Liar or Lunatic.

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: "I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don't accept His claim to be God." That is the one thing we must not say. A man who said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to (Lewis, 42).

The key phrase is "A man who said the sort of things Jesus said . . ." Lewis assumes that Jesus really said all the things attributed to him in the Bible. If we remove that assumption, then a fourth choice emerges. Jesus was Lord, Liar, Lunatic or Legend. It's possible that the stories we have about Jesus are so polluted by legendary changes and additions that we can say very little, if anything, for sure about who Jesus was and what he said.

In fairness to Lewis, he was trying to answer a very specific argument from anyone who accepts that Jesus said the words of the Bible but doesn't believe that he was God. He's right when he says that this position is nonsense. But I've never heard of anyone actually taking that stance. If you doubt that Jesus was God, then you almost inevitably don't trust that the Bible is a reliable account of historical events. So, Lewis is doing battle with a straw man and he's armed with a bad assumption.

Is anyone willing to try to make the case that Jesus did say everything the Bible claims he did? Lewis certainly makes no effort to prove that assumption and now that I think of it, I'm not sure I've ever heard anyone put forward good reasons for believing it. It's just one of those ideas that you get for free when you buy into the inerrancy of scripture.

Since it isn't relevant to the imagined argument that he's combatting, Lewis doesn't really address the Liar and Lunatic options or attempt to show why they're not true. It's certainly possible that Jesus was a liar and/or mentally ill. Most people who start religions fit one or both of those descriptions. Almost any Christian would place Joseph Smith, Muhammad, David Koresh and L. Ron Hubbard in one or both of those categories. Is it so hard to believe, then, that Jesus was more of the same? The fact that the Jesus story started so long ago means that there is less evidence to prove that Jesus lied (if Jesus was a science-fiction writer who told friends he wanted to get rich by starting a religion, then we have no record of it), and there has been more time for legends to grow up.

If we stop believing that the Bible is accurate history, can we gain anything from the words that are put in the mouth of Jesus? I think we can. The ideas can and should be judged on their own merit, whether Jesus said them or not and regardless of who Jesus really was. But personally, I think we can very easily arrive at a humanist ethic that is more useful, clear and consistent than what the Bible teaches.

A pattern

Greta Christina Says this so well:

When you look at the history of the world, you see thousands -- tens of thousands, arguably hundreds of thousands or more -- of phenomena for which a supernatural explanation has been replaced by a natural one. Why the sun rises and sets; what thunder and lightning are; how and why illness happens and spreads; why people look like their parents; how people got to be here in the first place... all these things, and thousands more, were once explained by gods or spirits or mystical energies. And now all of them have natural, physical explanations.

Natural explanations, I should point out, with mountains of solid, carefully collected, replicable evidence to support them.

Now, how many times in the history of the world has a natural explanation of a phenomenon been supplanted by a supernatural one?

As far as I am aware, exactly zero.

...

Given this pattern -- thousands upon thousands upon thousands of natural explanations accurately supplanting supernatural ones, zero supernatural explanations accurately supplanting natural ones -- doesn't it seem that any given unexplained phenomenon is far more likely to have a natural explanation than a supernatural one?

I guess that's why I'm not bothered by the things that science hasn't explained. How did life begin on Earth? What was the universe like before the Big Bang? We don't know. Some people look at those gaps in our knowledge and assume that God must be responsible. My 5-year-old daughter made that argument to me this week. First she tried peer pressure and told me that I was the only person who didn't believe in God, but when I listed some other people she changed tactics. She asked where people came from and where the Earth came from if God didn't make it.

I told her that she was asking good questions, then I asked her who made God, if he's responsible for making everything else. She said that there were people before God that made him. Who made them? And so on.

The pattern shows that the gaps are closing. This is an issue that any believer needs to think about and any apologist needs to account for. Why has religion been on the wrong side of issues of knowledge so consistently?

One way of dealing with this, and it has always failed miserably, is to attempt to deny and discredit new knowledge. The Church did it with Galileo and some are trying to do it now with evolution. The religious viewpoint just ends up looking stupid in the eyes of history.

Another way to deal with this is to say that the religion was never meant to answer scientific questions. The believer may claim that those parts of the holy book are not meant to be taken literally and the religion only answers metaphysical questions (e.g., What's the meaning of life? How should we treat each other? What actions are immoral?) There are four problems with this.

1. History proves this assertion wrong. Religion has always tried to explain the way the physical world works and how things began. As much as the more reasonable Christians may hate to admit it, the Creationists are part of a long chain of religious groups who try to promote supernatural explanations for the world, even in the face of overwhelming evidence for the natural explanations.

2. After such a long record of being wrong about the world, why would religion be considered authoritative on any subject? Not to mention the parts of the Bible that condone genocide. Do you really want to take ethical advice from a book like that?

3. If Genesis and Revelation don't have to be taken literally, then why does any book between need to be taken literally? If the creation story was just a human author's attempt to explain where the world came from, then aren't the 10 Commandments another human's attempt to prescribe how people should behave?

4. Why shouldn't we see these questions as one more area for natural explanations? Some scientific disciplines, like geology and biology, are limited to the way the physical world works. Others address the mind, society and even meaning. Psychology, ethics and philosophy, though not as exact, do take an essentially scientific approach to the deep questions that humans ask. They gather evidence, propose theories and test them, like the harder sciences. They're self-correcting and they've also replaced some supernatural explanations. I would much rather take advice on issues of morals and meaning from someone using this approach than from an ancient, pre-scientific religious book.

Warren and Harris

This article is from April, but I only just read it. It's Rick Warren of the Purpose Driven franchise and Sam Harris, outspoken infidel, in a joint interview with Newsweek. Here's an excerpt:

WARREN: If you're asking me do I believe in evolution, the answer is no, I don't. I believe that God, at a moment, created man. I do believe Genesis is literal, but I do also know metaphorical terms are used. Did God come down and blow in man's nose? If you believe in God, you don't have a problem accepting miracles. So if God wants to do it that way, it's fine with me.

HARRIS: I'm doing my Ph.D. in neuroscience; I'm very close to the literature on evolutionary biology. And the basic point is that evolution by natural selection is random genetic mutation over millions of years in the context of environmental pressure that selects for fitness.

WARREN: Who's doing the selecting?

HARRIS: The environment. You don't have to invoke an intelligent designer to explain the complexity we see.

1 ... 10 11 12 ...13 ... 15 ...17 ...18 19 20 ... 105